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Are The 2008 St Louis Cardinals For Real?

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I asked Matthew Berry of ESPN.com fantasy fame what he thought would be the fantasy implications if both the horrendous start by the Detroit Tigers and the excellent one by the Baltimore Orioles turned out to be representative of the teams' 2008 seasons.  This got me to thinking about the same question for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Coming into the 2008 season, the Cardinals were plagued by injury news.  If it wasn't starting pitchers Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter, it was fast-track Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols proclaiming to the world that he won't play through his elbow injury this season as he had in the past.  Additionally, medic reports were released that stated his elbow was worsening - not the original UCL injury but the surrounding areas.

The Cardinals also needed to replace SS Dave Eckstein who left via free agency.  The team's answer for the career .361 slugging SS was a .334 one, Cesar Izturis.  Former All-Star 3B Scott Rolen's relationship with his manager was so bad that the team dealt him for as-oft-injured 3B Troy Glaus, and the Cardinals dealt 21st century mainstay Jim Edmonds to the Padres for peanuts (David Freese - 25-yrs-old hitting .250 at AAA Memphis with 0 BBs and 11 Ks).

Anchoring the OF was LF Chris Duncan, who has not been able to hit lefties (.313 SLG in 2007), and another OF, Rick Ankiel, who doesn't take walks and hit .246 against right-handed pitchers.  The final OF spot was a free-for-all between career minor leaguers, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick, and Rule V draftee, Brian Barton.

On the mound, the team had 2006 World Series hero, Adam Wainwright and four other players who were either converted relievers for 2008 (Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer) or others team's  garbage (Wellemeyer again and Joel Piniero).  Outside of Wainwright and closer Jason Isringhausen, all the Cardinals' pitchers can be considered unwanted by other teams.

Then the 2008 season started.  Those unwanted pitchers?  11 starts 66.2 IP and 18 ER runs with 48 Ks and just 16 BBs.  The hitters?  Through Friday, they have walked more than they have struck out (48 to 46) and rank 2nd in the NL with a team OBP of .350.

If this representative of the true 2008 Cardinals, how can fantasy players take advantage of this surprising good team?  The first thing would be grab those starting pitchers.  Without four of the five performing above career expectations and remaining healthy, the Cardinals cannot continue to compete.  

The second thing would be to grab OF Rick Ankiel now.  Even with a healthy Albert Pujols (the third thing that would have to happen), the Cards will need another reliable bat, and Ankiel would be it.  A prodigous home-run hitter goes a long way towards making the Cardinals offense viable.

Also, expect either Ryan Ludwick or Brian Barton to seize 400+ OF ABs.  Without that occurring, the Cardinals would not have the bats to make-up for what, in a good case, is a mediocre hitting middle infield and catcher spot.  

Troy Glaus would also need to remain healthy for 140 games.  A heart-of-the-order of Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus is more fearsome than some would be lead to believe.